Thursday, September 18, 2008

Day 47: You've lost that sinking feeling

I was camped on a sandy point just before Mission Lake, and just as I headed off I decided to make my first backtrack of the trip, heading back into Fort Qu'Appelle. Merv had told me Home Hardware would have a bicycle technician who could fix my wheel. I still couldn't pop the bead of the 16" tire back in place, and the loss of mobility made me feel less capable of handling surprises the river my throw at me. The technician charged me $2 to get it back together, and said it was "extraordinarily difficult" to make me feel better about my failure as repairman.

While he was fixing the wheel I noticed a pair of automatic locking pliers that could serve in place of an adjustable wrench. These employ a very clever mechanism I still don't understand to lock onto bolts of any size up to half an inch. I had to have them, as well as a fair portion of their camping supply aisle: repair kits, mesh bags, windproof matches. I managed to stop myself before picking up the plastic egg container, though. My eggs have survived quite well in cardboard or styrofoam, keeping good at least five days unrefrigerated.

The wind was going against me on the lakes, so I wouldn't make it far after backtracking to the city. I quickly stopped at a nice spot on Katepwa Lake where I could read, write, and repair to my heart's content.

My chief repair would be my air mattress. This Thermarest, as long as I could remember, quickly lost air as soon as I lay on it. This was actually a major factor in my February fiasco. We were having an Indian summer during a week school was off, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to bike up to Banff. This is about 100 miles, which is a long ride, but I figured I would break it down, take two days of 50 miles each to get up there, and two days back. I filled my bags with canned food and a white gas stove that should have been
good for winter operation, in addition to my tiny one person tent, sleeping pad, and bag.

Things started to go wrong when I got a late start out of Calgary, taking time to fix my handlebar tape in the morning. So I had to push it if I was to make it to some camping area. On the highway I took, the lands are all fenced and posted "no camping" until Kananaskis Country.

In the mountains, the sun sets early and even if it has been warm all day it gets cold very quickly at night. I was already bundled up in warm jacket and gloves when I got to K-Country. As soon as the fences ended, I started looking for a place to set camp, but I thought I saw bear tracks in the snow, which was disheartening. I got back on my bike, and my weary legs took me another mile, two. I simply had to make camp before the sun set, so I pushed my bike through the snow bank on the left hand side as soon as I found a flat place to make camp.

Th sun was down, but I remembered there was a full moon tonight, shining its white light through the tree cover. But not fot long. This lucky light began to retreat, and I remembered that the reason I knew the moon would be full was there was actually a lunar eclipse that night. As the shadow of the Earth engulfed the moon, I set up my tent and tried desperately to prepare a meal.

The stove did not work. I had never gotten the stove to work well, and it was foolish traveling out with a bag full of canned goods and a stove that didn't work.

I ate as much jerky as I dared and went to bed. The air mattress released its air as usual, and so there was no air protecting my bum from the frozen ground.

The next day, cold, tired, hungry, and worn out, I had to call for help from the Kananaskis Country visitor center. About everything went wrong that could have. I figured if I could have at least been able to cook food, I could have taken another day, regained my strength, and continued on. I might still have needed help getting back, but hey, it would have been the weekend, and I would have been in Banff.

There was a woman I once knew who had done historical research in Sudan. While she was out there, her Thermarest mattress developed a leak. Her boyfriend, kept in contact via her satellite phone, suggested that she put the mattress in a bathtub full of water to find out where the leak was. She said, "There are so many things wrong with that, I don't know where to start."

But there I was on the shore of a lake, so I could easily find the leak. The mattress hissed when I put it in the water and I quickly saw a gash most of an inch long at the back of the foot. It was astonishing I had never noticed it before.

I applied the glue, and waited for it to dry, according to the instructions, before putting the patch in place. That night I inflated the mattress, as usual, and found to my delight that it kept its air completely. Oh yes, I remembered, this is how an air mattress is supposed to work.

After an hour of turning on the mattress, I had to release some air to return it to a level I was used to.

Still, this would come in handy on later nights. A site of rough stones or dirt trampled by cattle doesn't matter if I have an inch of air below me, and so I am able to make better use of poorer campsites.

Day 47 ended: 50*43.889N, 103*40.588W

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